Nightlight has no TV, no running water, no basic necessities…but they’ve got body bags.
This one was on my radar forever and as more and more hype came in for it, I got more excited to read it. I don’t know how it took me so long to get around to it. Once I picked it up, I literally read this in one sitting – it really was that good, and a lot like watching a movie unfold in front of me.
Rating: 5 stars!
Thanks to Flux for the eARC, it has not affected my honest review.
Trigger Warnings: conversion therapy, suicide and self harm, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, psychological torture, parental abuse, kidnapping, non-explicit sex between teenagers, coercive control – relationship presented as consensual, violence, gore, discussion of hate crimes, hate crime leading to disability, death.
About the book:
Connor Major’s summer break is turning into a nightmare.
His SAT scores bombed, the old man he delivers meals to died, and when he came out to his religious zealot mother, she had him kidnapped and shipped off to a secluded island. His final destination: Nightlight Ministries, a conversion therapy camp that will be his new home until he “changes.”
But Connor’s troubles are only beginning. At Nightlight, everyone has something to hide from the campers to the “converted” staff and cagey camp director, and it quickly becomes clear that no one is safe. Connor plans to escape and bring the other kidnapped teens with him. But first, he’s exposing the camp’s horrible truths for what they are— and taking this place down.
What did I think?
This book is definitely going to stick with me. It’s an intense, heavy story, but one that I read in a few hours because I couldn’t put it down for a single second. Despite the fact that, by its very nature, this book is heavily focused on queer trauma and pain, it didn’t feel like trauma porn at all. Instead it felt like a relevant and honest telling of the realities for some queer kids – despite how lots of people like to think that that’s all in the past. I was sucked into this book immediately and I swear I blinked and it was four hours later and I was finished with it. I’ve ended up writing my review right away, because I’m just full of raw emotion after that beautiful ending. And despite the fact that it is very heavy, it definitely has a hopeful ending. It’s not that everything is perfect, and that’s no surprise considering the kind of trauma all of the kids go through, but instead that there’s a life past what they suffered. They’ll survive and they’ll move on, and I know I’m going to hold hope in my heart for all of them for a long time.
I love Connor. I love, love, love him. He’s a mess, yeah, but he’s a teenage boy going through actual hell. I’d be suspicious if he wasn’t a mess. He’s funny and loyal, and dedicated to those he cares about. It makes him extremely likeable, along with a cast of characters that I absolutely adored (though not you, Ario, dickhead). I also really liked the antagonists of this book. Well. ‘Liked’. They’re horrible people, doing horrible things, but the way their motivations unfold is fascinating to read and makes some really interesting points about lifelong trauma. The pacing is absolutely perfect, and I found myself paging through this faster than even I thought I could read. I think I’ll definitely reread this one in a few months, because I’m sure there’s much more to see when I’m not utterly gripped by the fear of what was going to happen next.
I really liked that Surrender Your Sons addressed the idea that coming out can be a fix-all solution. I think that that’s a super important thing for queer teenagers to see. Coming out is a really brave thing to do, but when that’s the only thing that queer teens see, I worry that they get the message that they’re cowardly for staying in the closet. That’s not true and sometimes staying in the closet for your own safety is the bravest thing you can do. It doesn’t mean things won’t be better later, or that you don’t deserve to be part of the queer community. At the end of the day it’s your decision to come out or not, and ‘queer pride’ will be waiting when you’re ready. I think a lot of the messages in Surrender Your Sons will be so important for teens to see. I’m 23 and I still feel like it taught me things, I kind of wish I’d read a book like this when I was young.